fundraising planUnless you’re an experienced cook, you wouldn’t wander into the kitchen and start haphazardly throwing food into a pot.

You’d start by choosing the dish you want to eat. The one that makes your mouth water just thinking about it.

Then you’d organize your ingredients and work through the process of chopping, mixing, and heating.

Oooookay, I’m hungry now.

My Mom likes to improvise in the kitchen. If she’s out of an ingredient, she finds something to substitute. It always seems to work out okay, but when I try that, it’s disaster.

You know why?

It’s because cooking is a strength for her. It’s not one for me.

Play to your strengths


In fundraising, it’s important to play to your strengths.

What are you good at? What can you do easily and get consistent results?

I see lots of people trying the “latest thing” looking for a quick win. And it doesn’t work.

The nonprofits I see that are successful, raising all the money they need to fully fund their budget, are the ones that put some thought into what they’re going to do. In a nutshell, they plan.

They don’t just throw something on a piece of paper and call it a plan. They choose fundraising strategies because they know they’ll work. They choose strategies that play to their strengths.

Play to your personal strengths

So, what are YOU good at? Are you a great writer? Excellent communicator? Something else?

You may want to sit down and list out the things you personally are great at.


Because you need to be leveraging them in your plan. If you don’t, you’ll spend a lot of time doing things you don’t like doing, which will suck your energy and leave you frustrated (I bet you know what I’m talking about!).

Here’s a quick exercise that can help you identify your strengths:

It’s all about working ABOVE the line. Many of my clients now use this language internally with other staff to make sure everyone is working in the areas they are best at. When that happens, productivity goes up and frustration goes down. Doesn’t THAT sound good!

Once you know your personal strengths, it’s time to look at what your nonprofit has going for it.

Organizational assets

Organizational assets are things that make your organization stand out.  Often, they are strengths you can use for fundraising.

Here are some examples of nonprofit organizational assets:

  • Compelling mission (like feeding the hungry or housing the homeless)
  • Large public base of support
  • Incredible organization name recognition (like Habitat for Humanity or YMCA)
  • Well-known staff or Board members
  • Facility that lends itself well to a tour (like a shelter or food pantry)
  • Organizational vehicles that are driven around town regularly
  • Website with LOTS of daily visitors
  • Opportunity for earned income (like a thrift store or gift shop)
  • Well-known local, regional, or national celebrity who supports your organization

I had a client a few years ago that was struggling to raise money. One of the first things I did was to assess their organizational assets. After asking a few questions, I learned that they had an email list of over 10,000 people. That’s definitely an asset! They had been sending a monthly email newsletter for over a year just to keep these people up-to-date on their activities. Somehow, it had never occurred to them to ask these folks for a donation. So, we crafted a warm, heart-tugging appeal and sent it out. They raised over $10,000 in about a week. Yay, right? We created a plan to continue nurturing those folks and ask a couple more times throughout the year. Problem solved.

Personal strengths + organizational assets = basis for fundraising success

fundraising planWhen you create your fundraising plan based on your personal strengths and your organization’s assets, you’ll set yourself up for success. You’ll be working in areas that feel comfortable and that you’re good at, which will move you faster toward your goal.

For example, if you’re an introvert and you’re good at writing, these should be in your plan:

  • Grant writing
  • Donor-focused newsletters
  • Blogging

If you’re more of an extrovert and love talking with and being with people, these should be in your plan:

  • Friendraising events
  • Update and thank-you calls
  • Personal asks

That doesn’t mean you get to exclude the things you aren’t good at. You might need to develop a skill or stretch just a little to cover a much-needed strategy. Or maybe you should hire someone who has the skills you don’t have. It’s a decision you’ll need to make based on your individual situation.

The real trick is to carve out the time to figure out what you have to work with and create your plan based on that. Once you have a fundraising plan that plays to your strengths, the sky’s the limit.

Want help with your fundraising plan? Check out theFundraising Blueprint. It’s a self-study course that walks you through the steps of creating a plan so you can stop fighting fires, stop working evenings and weekends, and start bringing in the money your nonprofit needs. Get started now.

Learning to say “no” isn’t easy.
Most of us take on more than we can manage.
I seem to have some subconscious desire to be Wonder Woman – I’m always biting off more than I can chew.
I remember as a Development Director, I would take on a LOT of projects, and work furiously to get it everything done. I took things home almost every night and sometimes weekends, too.
Most of the time, I got it done. I was good at rounding up volunteers and I had some good interns.
Sometimes, it was ridiculously stressful.
Why did I do that? Why do YOU do that?
I think it’s because we want to do well. We want to be successful. We know that when we raise more money, we can change more lives.
I think it’s also because we haven’t learned how to draw our boundary lines for ourselves.
It’s not something we’re taught in grade school. No one pulls us aside and says “Here’s how you take good care of yourself.”
So, I thought you might like to meet someone who has done a FABULOUS job of saying “no” and is still very successful.

Meet Courtney Steckel.

Courtney is the Director of Development at the Humane Society of Greater Dayton.
She’s been in the job a little over two years, and at the time, was brand new to the world of fundraising. Previously, she worked in pharmaceutical sales.
Courtney also is a wife and a Mom, with four school-age kids.
While Courtney is committed to being successful on the job, she’s not willing to let it bleed over into her home life.
I started working with Courtney after she’d been on the job just a few months. She has a great understanding of the power of relationships, and has been able to translate her skills to fundraising pretty easily.
I was stunned when she told me she does not have email on her cell phone.

“It was a conscious choice. In my previous job, I had a ‘CrackBerry.’ I was working all the time, and the boundary lines were very messy. Even though I was successful, I wanted something different. I wanted to spend more time with my kids and less time on conference calls. When I took this new job, I knew I needed more work/life balance and I knew I needed to negotiate it from the beginning.”
She says it was a shock at first for everyone. But now they’ve learned that if they email her in the evening, they won’t hear back from her until the next morning. And guess what? It’s working out just fine.
She put her boundaries in place during the hiring process. She told her new boss what she wanted and he was hesitant at first. She says she had to prove that she could do the job during normal work hours.
Think about that – years ago, we expected people to get the job done during the day. Now it’s kind of odd. Weird how things have changed!
Courtney works her schedule so she’s off one half day a week. That gives her extra time with her kiddos. She makes it to all the holiday parties at school and reads in the classroom.
She says that at first, other staff were jealous. Of course, once she started raising big bucks, it was easier to justify her schedule, but the truth is that anyone can create a schedule that supports them and their lifestyle. Courtney points out that most staff didn’t understand the life of a Fundraiser. “We wouldn’t ask other staff to go to an event on the weekend or spend their evening writing a grant. Once they understood, it got easier.” It’s amazing how much more productive people are when they’re happy!
I was curious how Courtney got her new employer to agree to this unique situation.
“It took several meetings. It wasn’t easy, but I didn’t give up. I knew what was important and I wasn’t giving in.”
I’m sure that took a lot of nerve and being willing to lose the job because of the limits she asked for.
“On your deathbed, you won’t say ‘I wish I would have worked more.’ You’ll probably wish you’d spent more time with the ones you love. That’s what I’m doing.”
Courtney leads by example. Her team also has some flexibility in their schedule with some working part of the time from home. “Our office is so small, we wouldn’t all fit in here anyway. And there’s no privacy for making calls to donors.”  The organization is mid-way through a capital campaign that will help alleviate that problem soon.
Courtney’s advice to others is this: “Figure out what works and create a culture of acceptance. Help non-fundraising staff understand that raising money doesn’t fit neatly into a 9-5 job.”
After she started to work at Dayton Humane, Courtney helped start a ‘Sunshine Committee’ with the purpose of strengthening moral and helping staff to get to know each other better. It’s been a big hit and the organization has an amazingly strong culture.
“An organization is only as good as its people. If they don’t want to be there, you’ll have problems.”
She’s totally right.
My big takeaway from Courtney is that you don’t have to work 24/7 to get the job done and be successful. Courtney brought in thousands in corporate sponsorships and major gifts in her first 6 months on the job, very quickly proving that she could do the job, do it well, and do it the way she wanted to do it.

fundraisersThere’s a difference.

Most people are used to events. Those are Fundraisers.

They’ve seen them, been to them, even helped plan them.

They’re galas and raffles, dinners and golf tournaments, 5Ks, and bake sales.

They’re transactional in nature and in every community on any given day, there’s one happening.

But Fundraising is a different thing.

Fundraising is about asking for money, receiving nothing in return. (Or at least it appears that way.)

Many people don’t like fundraising. Even some who are employed to do it.  Yet it’s critical to sustainability. You can’t create ongoing revenue doing one event after another.

You NEED a large group of donors around you who love the work your nonprofit does and are willing to help you be successful. You need people who give money that you can use however you need to, simply because they want to.

So why is it easier to sell an event ticket than ask for a donation?

The Mindset of Fundraising

I believe it’s mindset.

fundraisersWe tend to steer clear of things that are uncomfortable or scary.

Asking for money leaves us vulnerable – what if they say ‘no?’ What if they don’t want to be around us anymore because we asked them for something and made them feel uncomfortable?

For some people, it’s too much to risk. (By the way, this is why your Board members don’t want to ask for money or invite their friends to your event – it’s all mindset.)

Asking for donations feels too much like begging. And as my colleague Kim Lauth pointed out on a webinar for my mastermind group, “Begging is settling for leftovers.”

Yuck. Who wants leftovers from donations? We’re talking nickels and dimes here.

And trust me – you will NEVER fully fund your budget with nickels and dimes.

So why DO people like selling tickets instead of asking for money?

Here are some reasons:


We like selling tickets because… We don’t like asking for money because…
It’s easy to explain We feel compelled to explain what the organization does, how long it’s been around, what the programs are, etc. It’s exhausting to remember all that crap!
People understand quickly what they’re getting We worry that people want something in exchange for their money
There’s usually a finite period of time to sell Fundraising happens all year long – it never ends
It’s a transaction – nothing personal Feels personal somehow, like we’re asking for a favor
We know the tickets are worth it We feel manipulative somehow, like we’re taking advantage of the person


So, what do you do?

Refocus on donors

If you know about the 1-10-1000 Rule, you know that you should be doing 1 special event and doing it well.

Make it a signature event so that everyone in the community knows about it and associates it with your nonprofit. And make it a ton of fun so everyone looks forward to it, enjoys it, then talks about it for weeks afterward.

Do this 1 event, do it well, then spend your time on donor development, not more events.

You just CAN’T raise big bucks doing event after event. Ditch the events that aren’t productive and aren’t fun for you or your guests.

fundraisersOnce you get that, it’s time to refocus on your donors – those sweet people who love your cause and are willing to fund your good work.

The big question, then, is how do you move toward Fundraising and away from Fundraisers?

Here are some tips.


  • See donors as partners, not purchasers. This is an important shift. People are not ATMs. You can’t just get a check whenever you need it, with unlimited cash available. Your donors are your partners in making the good work happen – they have the money and you have the programs. Add them together and your mission gets accomplished. And be prepared to give them what they want from their experience of philanthropy.
  • Get your mindset handled. If you continue to shy away from everything that’s uncomfortable or scary, you’ll be running your whole life. Get some coaching, get some backbone – whatever it takes to start being brave enough to spend time with a donor and ASK for their support. Take it in baby steps if you have to – just start moving toward that goal of doing Fundraising instead of Fundraisers.
  • Understand the ROI of Fundraisers vs Fundraising. Events will cost you 50 cents for every dollar you raise. That’s not a great return on your investment. Plus, if you factor in the staff time/cost, you may be in the hole on your event. Fundraising, or donor development, can be as little as 10 cents to raise a dollar. That’s a WHOLE lot better result for your money. It just makes financial sense to spend time with donors.
  • Picture donors as people. Donors aren’t necessarily “rich people” or “wealthy.” Yeah, they may have more money than you, but writing a check may be an easy way for them to help. Chances are good that they are in awe of you and wish they could do the boots-on-the-ground, front-line kind of work your nonprofit does. If they want to give, by all means, let them give!
  • Envision a different future. Imagine how your stress level will go down when you aren’t constantly “hitting someone up” to buy a ticket for something. That alone should motivate you to move toward donor development.
  • Keep the good words. Every time a donor tells you what an honor it is to support your organization, make a note of it. Keep the notes, emails, and cards they send telling you what great work your organization does. These words of encouragement will add up, then you can read through them anytime you need a little boost.



Now, if you’re doing LOTS of events and fundraisers, you may have to phase them out over time so you can replace that revenue with something else. $500 is $500, no matter where it comes from. Just make a plan of what you want to let go of and when, and start brainstorming about how you’ll replace it.


Then soon, you’ll be building up a big, loyal donor base full of people who give bigger and more frequent gifts. :)

You can take your nonprofit to Get Fully Funded status, too.
It takes some work to follow the Get Fully Funded principles, and it’s totally worth it.

When you have a fully funded budget,

  • Bills are paid on time, every time
  • You have a full staff to deliver programs
  • You have a reserve – money in the bank for emergencies
  • Programs are open to new participants – there’s no waiting list
  • You make decisions based on mission and vision, not the checking balance

It’s a fun place to be!
How do I know? I’ve been there several times myself as a Development Director, and I’ve helped lots of nonprofits get there as their coach.
Over the years, I’ve noticed a distinct difference between underfunded and fully funded nonprofits. The fully funded ones are willing to do the work. They’re willing to let go of things that aren’t working. They’re willing to try something new.

Here’s the real difference between fully funded and underfunded nonprofits.


Underfunded Fully funded
Focused on “fundraisers” and events Focused on donors
Makes decisions based on what’s in the bank Make decisions based on the need in the community and their vision to meet that need
Lives from one cash infusion to the next (grant to grant or event to event) Has a steady stream of revenue all year long
Most revenue comes from one main source (one grant or one big event) Has diversified revenue streams and money comes from many sources
Lives with a poverty mentality – pinches pennies Committed to doing whatever it takes to be successful
Settles for whatever they can get Not good with status quo and will find a way to overcome it
All about the money All about the relationships


See the difference?
To get a fully funded budget, you have to work smart and focus on the right things. Being busy doesn’t cut it. You have to be busy doing the right things.
Want to see if you’re already doing it (or some of it)?

The Fully Funded Quiz

Are you ready to up your game and become a fully funded noonprofit?


Take this quiz and see how you’re doing. Simply mark the activities that you’ve done in the past 30 days to give you an idea of where you have room to grow.


In the last 30 days, have you

  • Given donors and prospects an update on how your programs are changing lives?
  • Searched out a fresh new story that you can share with donors and prospects about the work your organization does?
  • Looked at your newsletter through the eyes of a donor to make sure it’s interesting and relevant –to THEM?
  • Reviewed your newsletter, social media, and other communications to make sure they are jargon-free, focused on impact, and written in conversational language?
  • Updated your Thank You letter to make it fresh, interesting, and appealing?
  • Reviewed your donor acknowledgement process to make sure that Thank You letters are going out within 48 hours of receiving the gift?
  • Reviewed the text on your automatically-generated Thank You/Receipt for online gifts to make sure it’s warm, friendly, and relevant?
  • Called a donor just to say thanks?
  • Written a thank you note and dropped it in the mail to a donor who has given a meaningful donation?
  • Talked with a donor to ask their opinion on something?
  • Picked up the phone to call a major donor to invite them to lunch?
  • Invited donors or prospects for a tour of your facility or programs?
  • Sent a donor or prospect a link to a video about your organization or a link to a news story?
  • Actively looked for new donors for your nonprofit?
  • Added someone to your mailing or email list, with their permission?
  • Updated your Facebook page at least once a week with something interesting to your followers to keep them engaged?
  • Invited your social media followers to get more involved (volunteer, give, or something else)?
  • Posted an original video (that you shot yourself) online to give supporters a first-hand look at your programs?
  • Pitched a story to your local news media to spread the word about your cause and educate the community about your work?
  • Reached out to local civic clubs and church groups to let them know you’re available to speak?
  • Asked your Board members individually to help with a fundraising task?
  • Conducted research to see what grant opportunities are out there that you might have missed?
  • Called a foundation to see if your program needs match their area of focus?
  • Sent an “out-of-the-blue” update to a foundation to thank them for a grant they gave you?
  • Culled through your database to eliminate duplicate records and update records with new addresses?
  • Reviewed your year-to-date numbers to see how you’re doing so far?
  • Adjusted your fundraising plan based on what’s already happened this year and what you know has changed already?
  • Calculated your donor retention rate for last year and compared that to this year-to-date?
  • Reached out to a donor who’s about to lapse to invite them to renew their support?
  • Updated your wish list and shared it in your newsletter and on your website?
  • Recruited volunteers to help you with fundraising tasks that they can do, freeing up your time to focus on other things?
  • Personally thanked a volunteer for their time and commitment?
  • Thanked sponsors from your last event for their support, even if you’ve already thanked them once?
  • Asked a business to sponsor for your next special event?
  • Asked individuals to serve on your special event committee?
  • Said “no” to an opportunity that would take more time than it’s worth?
  • Looked at another nonprofit that’s a few steps ahead of you to see what you can learn from them?
  • Read a book on fundraising, leadership, or personal development?
  • Attended a webinar, workshop, or other training to learn something new?
  • Talked with a mentor or coach about how you can be a better Fundraiser?


So, how’d you do?
If you don’t have very many check marks, don’t worry – you’re not alone. Most nonprofits have a lot of room for improvement.
The important thing is that you decide to make it better. Mark this date on the calendar and choose to make it different going forward.
Remember this: you can’t do all this stuff overnight. Pick ONE THING that will make the biggest difference in moving you forward, and do it. When that one is done, go to the next thing with the biggest ROI and do it. If you can do one a week or so, you’ll see improvement pretty fast.
And you’ll be on your way to the world of Get Fully Funded.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about fundraising lessons I learned from my cat.
I thought I’d better give equal time to my canine companions and share the fundraising lessons I’ve learned from my dogs.
We have two: a small brown terrier mix named Maggie who is high energy and ball crazy. We also have a blond lab mix named Lucy who is as goofy and loving as they come. They’re sweetie pies with lots of love to give and I couldn’t imagine life without them, even though they can be annoying as all get out from time to time.
In my world, pets are members of the family and we take the good with the bad.

Here’s what I’ve learned from them about raising money.

1. They both like routine. Routines and systems are super helpful for efficiency. They keep you from spending a lot of time reinventing the wheel. You need systems for everything you do more than once so you can move through the task efficiently in the future. My dogs know the routine for getting ready each morning – when breakfast is, when the potty break is, and when to get in the car to go to work. They know what to expect during the day and what it means when I close my laptop (you’ve never seen two dogs dance the ways these girls do when it’s time to go home!). They’ve got the daily drill down-pat, and it throws them off when the routine is disrupted (especially when I go out of town). One of the funniest is how I play fetch with Maggie while I dry my hair. She hears the hairdryer come on and she shows up out of nowhere with a ball in her mouth, ready for me to kick it with my foot. I don’t remember how this started, but it’s a routine now, and there’s no way she’s giving up ball time.
2. They are loyal.  They are super committed to us humans they’re attached to. If ANYONE dares to stop their car at the edge of our driveway or walk down the sidewalk outside the office, they both growl and bark. (Of course, we’re trying to get them to cut that out, especially at the office!).  They’re territorial about their space and want to protect it. You should feel the same way about your organization and your donors. What can you do to make sure that no other nonprofit is edging you out to become your donors’ favorite? Donors are going to give to multiple nonprofits at the same time and there’s nothing you can do about it. But if you become their favorite, then you’ll get their biggest donations and you’ll never have to worry about them cutting you out of the picture.
3. They LOVE to go for a car ride. To raise big bucks, you MUST get out of your office and get face-to-face with donors. You can do a fair number of things from behind your desk, but at some point you must get out. My dogs LOVE to ride in the car and feel the wind blowing over their face. They know the word “go” and get super excited when they hear it. The ladies at the bank know me and my dogs and always have treats in the drawer along with my deposit receipt.
4. They are playful. My doggies love to play. Maggie is ball crazy, and Lucy just loves to run around. They know that life shouldn’t be all serious and that play time outside is important. Play time is important for you, too. It’s easy to get sucked into a work-all-the-time situation with the best intentions: “I’ll just finish this one thing tonight” or “I’ll review this newsletter after dinner” or “I’ll knock this grant out this weekend.” Next thing you know, it’s every night and every weekend. You CAN’T do that – you’ll burn out. Take time for yourself, practice good self care and make sure you get your play time in. It’s really important – it recharges your batteries so you can be your best when you’re working.
5. They love meeting new people. So this one is kind of contradictory – they bark at everyone who comes near, but when they see I’m fine with the new person, they’re all about making a new friend. Maggie wags her tail so hard I don’t know how she can stay on her feet! In fundraising, you need to constantly bring new people into your donor family just to make up for the ones who are leaving (no matter how hard you try, you’ll lose some donors each year). Being focused on finding new donors is a great habit to get into, and the friendlier you are, the easier it is. If you’re an introvert like me, practice some questions you can ask when you meet new people – it’ll help you feel more comfortable in that situation.


6. They’re curious. My dogs are curious. About everything. They love new toys and new people. They love to sniff EVERYTHING in our yard (which is a lot because we live on a farm – no telling what walks through our yard during the night). Lucy has a great head tilt when she’s zoned in on something. Curiosity is a great trait for fundraisers, too. It’ll help you uncover the reason why a donor cares about your nonprofit’s mission. It’ll help you determine which fundraising activities are worth the ROI and which ones aren’t. And it’ll help you find solutions to problems when others say there isn’t one.
7. They’re good at asking. As a fundraiser, mastering the art of asking is critical. Whether you’re asking for money, asking for a sponsorship, or asking someone to volunteer, you must be able to ask for what your organization needs without flinching. My dogs are Jedi Masters at this. They don’t beat around the bush – they go right for it. When Maggie wants to play ball, she brings it to you and drops it in your lap or at your feet, then proceeds to stare you down until you do what she wants. If you resist, she turns up the pressure with whining and getting in your lap. When Lucy needs to go out, she pokes you with her big nose every minute or so until you get up and take her out. There’s never a question as to what they want which makes it easy to give it to them. Are you being that clear with your donors? Do they know exactly what you want them to do? Hint: if you’re sending a letter that looks like thank you letter, but sort of has an ask in it and also feels like an update, you’re confusing them. Be clear. Ask for ONE thing and get right to the point.
8. They have stinky farts. Yes they do. Sometimes they just about run us out of the house because it smells so bad. But here’s the thing: those gas bubbles tell us they’re not perfect. A perfect dog wouldn’t poot in my face when we’re snuggled up on the couch together. Yet Maggie does. Her imperfectness is part of her charm. Just like Maggie, a good fundraiser isn’t perfect. They don’t get all wrapped up in trying to be perfect either. Perfectionism leads to procrastination, which will shut down your fundraising activities. I’m living proof that you can be less than perfect, make a bunch of mistakes and still raise a crap ton of money. I’ve made just about every mistake in the book and not only survived it, but was very successful anyway.
So, there you go – 8 fundraising lessons I learned from my dogs. I’m sure there are many more and I may share those later.
Got one you could add to it? Type it in the comments below!

Everyone loves accomplishment.

There’s nothing like the feeling of hitting a goal. It’s satisfying and gives you a sense of pride.

But to do it in half the usual amount of time is thrilling.

That’s what happened to Ellen Bushman.

Ellen is the Vice President of Development at Lutheran Family Services of Virginia. (

The nonprofit is big – its programs cover the entire state of Virginia. Thanks to a number of government grants and contracts, Ellen’s Development team is only responsible for raising $243,000. Considering that just a few years ago, she was raising a fraction of that, it’s a lot.

I started working with Ellen a couple of years ago when organizational leaders decided it was time to lessen the reliance on government money and increase the amount of unrestricted funds that come from donor-based fundraising.

Back then, it was Ellen who did Development and Carol who headed up Communications and Marketing. Today, just two years later, they have five additional staff who help with fundraising, grants, social media, and volunteers.

Ellen called me last month to let me know they had hit their entire goal for the fiscal year (July-June) by the end of December. She knew I’d be thrilled and do the Happy Dance with her.

“You did WHAT??” I screamed into the phone.

Yep. She explained how they blew past their goal of $243,000 in just 6 months. I grabbed a pen and started scribbling because I knew you’d want to know how she did that.

Here’s what Ellen said:

1. They started with a plan. They knew that to get serious about fundraising – they couldn’t wing it. So the Development staff put their heads together and came up with a plan for raising money, renewing donors, and deepening relationships. They took the time to put some detail in it and figure out what role everyone would play.

2. They got strategic. They found out they were getting a significant increase in tax credits and wanted to carefully think about how to use them. For those who are unfamiliar, some states like Virginia offer tax incentives to individuals who make large charitable gifts, lessening their tax liability. It’s a win for the donor and a win for the charity. They had a LOT to give and didn’t want to waste the opportunity.

3. They got focused. The team kept a list of what had to be accomplished to maximize their tax credits in addition to their other fundraising. They wanted to accommodate their current donors and bring in as many new ones as possible with this opportunity. They wound up with four new donors who made large gifts totaling $70,000. Merry Christmas Ellen, right?

4. They spread the word. The Marketing/Communications staff got busy and shared more than ever. Donors, prospects, and the communities served saw more stories, video, photos and social media. In general, they became more visible. Here’s one video that stole my heart! They also held “Lunch and Learn” events at some locations to give people a closer look at their work and find out how they could get involved.

5. They got into motion. They created a flier about the tax credits and sent that out along with a special letter to donors who gave $200 or more. They made phone calls to major donors to let them know about the tax credits and give them updates on program outcomes. They made SURE their donors knew about this opportunity to give.

6. They kept the communication open. Tax credits weren’t all they talked about. They kept donor newsletters full of stories from the front lines of lives being changed. They showed donors how they had helped make it all happen. They created an awesome digital annual report for donors to recap the previous year’s work. (

7. They asked for money. Their Fall appeal was segmented into 4 groups of donors based on previous giving. They wrote a terrific, donor-focused letter and told a heart-tugging story, and the appeal generated $20,000.
They conducted a staff campaign, starting with their leadership team who each made a donation. From there, they invited mid-level staff to give and raised $24,000 in short order. Having payroll deduction made it super easy for staff members to give. The best news? They still have a large number of front-line staff to ask!

A Board campaign resulted in 100% Board giving and even though the total amount given wasn’t particularly impressive, the fact that every Board member committed personal funds is. Who doesn’t want 100% Board giving?

Lutheran congregations across the state gave $32,000 to the organization.

Ellen says one of their biggest successes was in grants, which generated almost $60,000 for the organization. After 3 years of applying for grants and seeing poor results, they sharpened their skills, made a list of needs and fundable areas, and got to work matching their needs with foundation interests. Clearly it worked!

The organization also received a gift of property worth $429,000 that leaders are still deciding the best use for.

Interestingly, they did NO special events during the first half of the fiscal year. Think about that – no gala, no dinner, no auction – nothing. They have a “Pack the Park” event planned for Spring in Roanoke and anticipate it will generate $25,000.

Ellen said one of the keys to their success was a set of guiding principles the organization adopted. It helped guide everything the staff did and really pulled everyone together. The principles focus on areas of abundance, relationships, people, stewardship, and shared ownership. (See the whole list at

It wasn’t all a bed of roses. Ellen said sometimes they took steps forward and other times it felt like steps backward. (I’d call that the Cha Cha of Success.) And even though sometimes things were moving really fast, the Development plan kept them anchored and focused.

So, what are they doing the rest of the fiscal year?

  • They’re preparing to kick off a planned giving program. They know many of their donors are older and they want to give them the opportunity to leave a legacy with the organization.


  • They’re planning a monthly giving program to provide steady, recurring revenue for some of their most critical programs.


  • And they’re planning some face-to face visits with their best donors, so that even if they don’t have the same amount of tax credits this Fall, they’ll still have donors who love their work and are willing to support them.


Inspired by this story? Want more? Leave a comment and let me know.

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Thanks to Zach Hagopian with Accel Events for today’s article on silent auctions.


So you’ve decided to use a silent auction at your fundraiser. You may have even identified a mobile fundraising platform to expand your reach and raise more money.
But before finalizing plans for your fundraiser, you will first need to collect amazing silent auction items!
A great first step here is identifying the best type of silent auction items to pursue.
Great silent auction items will not only help you attract a larger donor base for your event, but will also create some extra excitement and awareness around your fundraiser.
Once collected, enticing silent auction items will provide another channel through which your audience can donate. The silent auction items also create a positive experience and halo effect for your fundraiser and cause.
When someone wins an amazing silent auction item at your fundraiser, they will associate their positive memories from that item with your fundraiser, and will be likely to return again next year!
This is a great way to establish a loyal donor base. We are finding that more and more, the key to acquiring and retaining long-term donors is by creating a memorable experience and relationship between the donor and the fundraising organization. And while there are many strategies for developing a loyal donor base, holding an exciting and engaging silent auction is a perfect way to start!
In order to provide this great experience to your donors, you will need to ensure that your silent auction items are memorable and unique! But, with so many options for items out there, prioritizing the best items for your audience can quickly become overwhelming.
To save you some time in your busy fundraiser planning schedule, we’ve put together a quick list of the highest performing silent auction items for you to focus on. Once you’ve prioritized these items, it will make item solicitation easier and more organized!
We broke these down into 5 essential categories in order to keep things simple:


1. Travel

Beautiful tropical beach with palm trees, white sand, turquoise ocean water and blue sky at Anegada, British Virgin Islands in Caribbean

Travel-related silent auction items are always a huge hit. Whether you are able to collect an all-inclusive trip to the Caribbean, or even just a weekend getaway in New England, fundraiser guests love having the chance to win an amazing trip. Travel items are experiential in nature, and provide your guests with the chance to create new memories. Some great places to start include:


  • All-Inclusive Trips
  • Weekend Getaways
  • Hotel Stays
  • Airline Tickets or Miles


2. Outings / Experiences


Continuing on the experiential theme, unique outings or experiences often create a ton of excitement at silent auctions. Guests love bidding on unique experiences, because these items typically present an activity that the bidder has never tried before.


Outings/experiences can include a wide range of items, but some of our favorite include:


  • Spa days
  • Local brewery tours
  • Sunset or harbor cruises
  • Museum tickets
  • Comedy night
  • Hot air balloon rides
  • Outdoor activities (hiking, kayaking, bungee jumping)
  • Theme park tickets


3. Sports Tickets / Memorabilia


Anything sports-related will always be a huge hit at your fundraiser. Be sure to pay special attention to where your audience lives – you will want most of your sports items to relate to your audience’s home team:


  • Tickets
  • Signed memorabilia
  • Chance to meet local celebrity athletes
  • Golf Outings
  • Ski Passes
  • Yoga Classes
  • Spin Classes


4. Music


Everybody enjoys music of some type. Whether your audience trends more towards country music, pop, or rock n’ roll, including music-related items will always garner high bidding traffic. When thinking of music items, try not to limit yourself to concert tickets only!


  • Concert Tickets
  • Backstage passes / chance to meet the musician
  • Signed instruments / albums from famous musicians
  • Music Lessons


5. Food

Grilled Salmon with fresh salad and lemon. Selective focus

Making an appearance at almost every silent auction, food-related items have become a staple of most fundraisers. People love going out to dinner, trying new restaurants, or even trying a new kind of food for the first time. From a collection standpoint, you shouldn’t have trouble collecting many food-related items, as there are hundreds of restaurants in every city, and most are willing to promote their restaurant. Some great ideas include:


  • Restaurant gift certificates
  • Catering service certificates
  • Dinner & wine pairing
  • Cooking Classes
  • Food gift baskets


After reviewing our list above, you probably noticed an underlying theme across the five categories; most of these amazing items are experiential, not material.

In general, we have found that experiential items outperform material items again and again. Experiential items create memories and journeys for your guests that start during your fundraiser and continue throughout the duration of the item.
Such great experiences will form lasting connections between your donors and fundraiser, as donors will quickly begin to associate their fun memories with the moment that they won the item at your event.
Even better is that your donors will tell their friends and family about the great experiences they have had, and will certainly connect the prize to your fundraiser. This sharing creates amazing word-of-mouth recommendations for your fundraiser and organization, resulting in an even larger donor base for your next fundraiser!
One final tip here – do not be selfish with this list! This guide should be shared with each member of your committee or volunteer staff, so that they can also have success in soliciting the best possible items for your silent auction!
Author Bio


Zach Hagopian is the co-founder and COO of Accelevents, a mobile fundraising platform that powers silent auctions and raffles through online and text-message bidding. An active member in the Boston fundraising scene, Zach focuses on improving traditional fundraising methods and increasing fundraiser proceeds through the use of the Accelevents platform, and similar products.

Fundraisers work in The Great Money Contradiction.

Most of us grow up hearing that it’s not polite to talk about money. Yet that’s our job.

No wonder so many people find a way around face-to-face asks!

You know what I’m talking about – you’re nervous about meeting a donor in person to ask for money, so you get really good at things you can do from behind your computer so you can avoid the in-person work for as long as possible. (I know because I did this too!)

Yet, the fastest way to raise big bucks is by building a relationship and making a personal request.

I believe that one of the main reasons (and there are several!) for this behavior is to avoid talking about money.

Did you hear any of these growing up?

  • “Money doesn’t grow on trees”
  • “We’re not made of money”
  • “You have to work hard to make money”

How we feel about money started in those early years. It’s learned and so it can be changed. And it needs to shift if you want to raise big bucks.

Money issues that hold up fundraising

There are actually several issues around money that get in our way of being successful in fundraising:
1.  Money is a taboo subject. It’s not considered polite to ask someone how much they make or what they’re worth. We don’t usually tell people what we paid for our house or what its value is.  We learn early on that we’re not to speak of it, so our little minds interpret that it’s an “off limits” subject or that it’s bad in some way.

When we become Fundraisers and realize that we now are supposed to talk about money, it feels awkward or manipulative in some way. We’re suddenly thrust into a position of great discomfort – we need to raise money to fund programs, so we must ask folks for money. Yet we’re not supposed to talk about money, so we have a hard time reconciling it. I think this is why so many Fundraisers want leave the ask amount open – they don’t want to tell someone how much to give – that’s way too presumptuous. Or they want to just talk about the good work they do, hoping that donors will connect the dots and send in donations. The problem is that it doesn’t work, and can leave you at Square 1 trying to figure out how to bring in money. 

2. Money is emotionally charged. Almost everyone has at least one bad memory of money and it carries forward into our current thoughts and beliefs about money. Think for a moment about your earliest memory of money. Who was there? What was happening? Mine is about wanting a dollar to spend at Woolworth’s on the toy aisle as a little girl (yes, I’m dating myself here). My parents wouldn’t give me money so I asked to do chores. I was told I should do them without getting paid. I asked for an allowance. I was again told “no.” I wanted so much to have a way to earn something, even just a few coins, and it was always out of reach. So, money seemed to be something I couldn’t get. Now, imagine how that plays out if you are a Fundraiser and you have a belief that money is out of reach. You guessed it – raising money gets hard.No matter what your early experiences with money were, they color how you feel about money now. They impact how you spend or save, how you give, and how you feel about talking about money with donors.


3. Money is full of meaning. And that meaning differs from person to person. Money can represent freedom, wealth, and power. It can also represent struggle, failure, and lack. When it comes to fundraising, too many times we think we can’t ask for big bucks because the donor won’t want to part with their hard-earned dollars. Maybe we’ve misjudged them and they don’t really care about our programs after all. And maybe we aren’t really deserving of such a donation. Or what if we offend the donor by asking for too much? The problem here is that we’re assuming the donor thinks like we do about money and that’s probably not the case at all. Or we’re deciding ahead of time that the donor won’t give. Regardless, we’re carrying our beliefs about money into the situation and le tting them rule instead of making unbiased decisions about what donors want and what they’ll support.


What does money mean to you? What do you think it means to your donors? Chances are good that it’s different. After all, if they didn’t see money as a way to help people, they wouldn’t be your donors!


Buck the unhelpful money beliefs


So, what can you do? If your job is to shake the money tree and fill the organization’s coffers, what can you do about those nagging money beliefs that are keeping you stuck?
1. First, start to identify what they are. We can’t shift what we can’t identify. I have an exercise I do with my mastermind group where I have them write down their first memory of money. Then they write down their most painful memory of money, and we talk through how that’s showing up for them now as a Fundraiser.

2. Next, get focused on the good your organization does. Make a list of 10 things you love about how your organization’s programs change lives. This gets you focused on impact and outcomes, and that’s exactly where you need to be. This won’t completely solve any negative mindset you have about money, but it’s a great place to start to shift your beliefs.

3. Finally, understand that your donors are people, just like you. They have money beliefs that guide their decisions, just like you. They may simply have money than you to work with. If they love the work your nonprofit does and want to help, they will. The more they understand about what you need and how your programs change lives, they more they’ll give. And if they have a great experience with your organization, the more likely they’ll be to come back and give again.


What do you need to do so your money experience doesn’t derail your fundraising? It only takes one step to get started.